January 3, 2009
Less than three weeks to Inauguration, President-elect Obama already faces the Middle East in renewed turmoil. His first priorities will necessarily be domestic (see post of 5 November), and it will take some considerable time to see a coherent foreign policy emerge. The post of 21 July took as its starting point his ‘national security strategy’ laid out in Washington on 15 July.
There are likely to be far less changes in the substance of foreign policy objectives than in style.
I believe that the defining feature of Obama’s foreign policy and transatlantic foreign relations will be the Greater Middle East, the area of greatest error by the Bush administration. The clock cannot be turned back but there needs to be a clear recognition that the root problems are Palestine and Pakistan and that the various disputes are interrelated.
What happens in Iraq is increasingly in the hands of the Iraqis. Afghanistan is increasingly a lost cause, but the new president will expect Europe to commit greater military resources to the fight. The future of Pakistan is dependent on a new approach by both Pakistani politicians and the US and needs wider international support.
Iran’s nuclear programme will have to be addressed. Further sanctions are unlikely to help as effective measures will be blocked by Russia and/or China. A military solution is very unlikely. The most likely outcome is for Obama to support the European policy of engagement and an overall deal involving Iran’s re-integration into the international scene: but this will be a long haul.
The president-elect has not shown any clear determination to bring to an end the Palestine-Israel struggle, but this can certainly not be ignored, in the light of recent developments. However, the direct parties are ever further away from peace.
Greater Middle East policy and the war against terror are, of course, interlinked.
The only conclusion to be drawn is that a new, comprehensive approach to all these problems is required, an approach necessarily led by the US but supported by the international community (western, middle eastern and eastern). This seemingly impossible task is the only way forward. And this will be the greatest test of Barack Obama’s leadership.